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Knaus Is Hearing The Sounds Of Success In Cup Garages

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, September 28 2009
Jimmie Johnson appeared to be getting into the heads of his fellow Chase competitors at Dover over the weekend.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jimmie Johnson appeared to be getting into the heads of his fellow Chase competitors at Dover over the weekend. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Chad Knaus is beginning to hear exactly what he wants to hear at Sprint Cup tracks and it is not just the sound of well-tuned Hendrick Motorsport engines. Knaus is hearing the sound of fear in his opponents.

He heard it before Sunday’s victory at Dover International Speedway and he heard it afterward. He heard it in the form of complaints about tire testing by his team, he heard as other drivers annointed his driver as, once again, the guy to beat in this year’s Chase.

Beautiful, Knaus said, “I hope people are worried.”

The worry factor shot skyward as the AAA 400 droned on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson, for whom Knaus serves as crew chief, started from the pole, led the first 27 laps, lost it, picked it back up for 19 more laps,  and then picked up up again on lap 176 of the 400-lap race and held it until taking the checkered flag.

Along the way, he sprinted out to huge leads. His final margin of victory over teammate Mark Martin was 1.9 seconds.

The victory moved him to within 10 points of Martin after two of 10 Chase races, to within sight of a fourth-straight championship, and it has apparently put the fear of Chad into the skulls of the 11 other teams and drivers who still have mathematical chances of winning the 2009 Cup.

Before the race even started at Dover, some in the garages were saying it was unfair that Johnson got to take part in a tire test at Dover earlier in the year. They said that gave him and Knaus more time to prep for a race that always plays a large part in determining the championship.

Said Roush Fenway driver and Chaser Greg Biffle, “What’s probably most frustrating about the whole thing, and I hate to beat a dead horse, is that the 42 (Juan Pablo Montoya) and the 48 and I don’t know who else came up here and tire tested, and when we came back, look at the guys that didn’t tire test, we ran terrible. It was a completely different tire, it had us off our game right when we unloaded off the truck, we couldn’t even make a lap on the track. We got going there toward the end, but not like the guys that tested. That’s the whole deal.”

After the AAA 400, others were conceding the fact that the No. 48 team of Johnson and Knaus has become No. 1 on the list of championship favorites.

“We need to run better,” Ryan Newman of Stwart-Haas, said. “We need to be up there with the No. 5 (Martin) and the No. 48.”

“Jimmie dominated today and finished fourth last week,” Jeff Gordon said. “I think a lot of people thought that Hendrick could be the team to beat and right now they certainly are.”

Denny Hamlin was asked if he thought the victory by Johnson deflated the other 11 in the Chase.

“This is a good track for him,” Hamlin said. “It’s always been a good track for him. When we go to tracks where we’re strong at, people expect us to win. It’s no different. It’s just one of his better tracks.”

But, Hamlin quickly added, “They’re strong everywhere. There’s no weakness to their race team at all. We just gotta get better on these types of race tracks before we can contend.”

Over in Hendrickville, Knaus was loving every syllable of what he was hearing over the weekend.

“I hope people are talking about the fact that we tire tested and it’s wrong,” Knaus said.  “All these people can get wound up about stuff that really doesn’t matter.

“We’ll keep our heads down. Keep our blinders on, and we’ll go to work. At the end of the day, all the talk means nothing. You’ve still got to show up in Kansas (for this weekend’s race) and run that race.  That’s what we do a good job of staying focused on doing.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, September 28 2009
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